Wheatland, Missouri (March 6, 2019) - With the opening weekend of the Lucas Oil MLRA tour drawing near Omaha, Nebraska's Jake Neal is the first driver to officially declare intentions on running for the MLRA Sunoco Racing Fuels Rookie of the year for 2019.
No stranger to going head to head with some of the best national and regional touring stars, Neal has had successful stints with both the USMTS Modifieds along with the IMCA Derry Brother Series for Late Models, and is looking forward to the competition of the MLRA Series.
The now 28 year-old began his racing career in 2005, learning against some of the elite modified teams competing on the USMTS tour. Racing with the nation's best week in and week out helped Neal to get to where he is today, although he admits it has not been an easy road. "I kinda wish we had taken some stepping stones with the modified path like we are doing with the late model. We probably would have learned a lot more and not been so overwhelmed, but we won some modified races, so it didn't turn out too bad," commented Neal.
Neal continued with his full time modified aspirations through 2009 and scaled back his racing operation considerably in 2012 before hooking up with a local car owner in 14' to pilot a B-Modified. With the itch fully back, Neal returned to the modified ranks on a full time basis in 15' before making the next jump into late models the following year.
Neal found near instant success with his move to the powerful late models in 16' knocking down double digit wins primarily at the Shelby County Speedway in Harlan, IA as well as finding victory lane at Maquoketa Speedway. The success Neal enjoyed would again provide another stepping stone as he set out in 2017 in pursuit of the IMCA Derry Brothers Late Model Series Championship. "We led a lot of Derry races but just could not seal the deal on them. We finished 2nd in the Derry Series points, losing out on the title by just 4 points after we led most of the season," said Neal.
2018 marked the move for Neal to the open late model ranks, running in a limited number of MLRA and national late model events. He recorded a series best run of 6th at the Salina Highbanks in Salina, OK but it was his first MLRA start that helped to provide the team with some early confidence.
Just one day after failing to make the show at Davenport Speedway, Neal laid down a solid qualifying performance and was able to race his way into the Slocum 50 at West Burlington, IA-among a star studded field of 37 late models. Neal said, "It was a pretty cool feat to make that show with the likes of Shannon Babb and other guys of that caliber there."
The experience gained in 2018 is something he feels will benefit his team as they chase after Sunoco Rookie honors. "We learned a lot compared to the IMCA cars. The open stuff is a huge jump--we didn't think it was going to be quite that big. The speed ratio is probably 20 mph faster, but it's been a fun experience, just tough," commented Neal.
His regional touring experiences however will provide him with some insight into a majority of the tracks on this years MLRA slate. He is excited to return to tracks like West Liberty Raceway and the Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway. "We had a really good run at Dubuque in the Derry Series. We led a lot of laps and just got passed late in lapped traffic."
As far as expectations for the rookie candidate it's pretty simple. "We want to be able to run all the shows and not tear anything up. As of right now we want to get at least one MLRA win this year, and if we achieve that we will just keep moving our goals up the ladder," he concluded.
Neal will start off his MLRA Sunoco Rookie Campaign with an XR-1 Rocket Chassis powered by a Scott Bailey Racing Engine. Primary sponsorship will come from Prevost Racing of Billings, MT in addition to support from Neal's Automotive, Henry-Hobscheidt Motors of Plattsmouth, NE and B Bar R Trucking.
Helping pit side is a crew consisting of his father Scott Neal, Taurean Winston, and supporters Phil and Mary Prevost.
Neal will get his first opportunity of the season when the Lucas Oil Speedway welcomes the MLRA Series for a double header weekend on April 12th -13th. The weekend will feature a pair of $3,000 to win shows at the "Diamond of Dirt Tracks", an event that historically has produced large fields of talented drivers and teams.
For all of the latest news and information fans are encouraged to visit the series website at www.MLRARacing.com.